The commission may acquire lands that represent the best remaining examples of Kentucky’s natural heritage by purchase, gift or bequest. The commission can either acquire the land outright or in some instances, may acquire a perpetual conservation easement covering the property instead. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between the landowner and the commission that permanently restricts the use of the property in such a way as to preclude development or other activities that would harm or impair its natural condition. Actual ownership of the property, however, remains with the landowner.
For example, the owner of a natural area may donate their property or a conservation easement covering the property to the commission. Such contributions can serve as permanent memorials, and donors can be assured that the land's natural values will be permanently preserved and protected. Donations of either land or a conservation easement to the commission qualify as a charitable gift for federal income tax purposes.
The commission can also purchase land or a conservation easement from willing sellers for up to the appraised fair market value of the property. Alternatively, owners may prefer a “bargain sale” of the land, receiving less than the appraised fair market value from the commission and treating the difference as a charitable gift for federal income tax purposes.
Ownership of natural areas by the commission allows for active land management by agency staff, in order to perpetuate the features for which the property was acquired. This may include prescribed burning, natural community restoration, removal of non-native species, controlling inappropriate visitor uses and maintaining visitor use facilities such as hiking trails.